Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Lost Art of Love Letters

“What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters. You can’t reread a phone call.” – Liz Carpenter

My parents met when my mother was 14 and my father 16. They married about ten years later. Last July my parents passed away within two weeks of each other. My mother was frail and we knew her end was near. It didn’t make it any easier, but it didn’t catch us by surprise. My hale and hearty father, however, was a different story. He was buried exactly two weeks after my mother, proving that it is possible to die of a broken heart.

Along with my memories, they left behind a stack of letters they’d written to each other after my father enlisted in the Navy. Thought I haven’t put them in chronological order yet, they seem to be written between June 1944 and February 1946.

I’ve only just begun to read the letters. I feel like an eavesdropper listening in on a private conversation because I can so clearly hear their voices saying the words as I read the pages. However, I think they kept the letters all these years not only for their sentimental meaning but also because they wanted their kids, grandkids and so on to learn more about of their personal history together and “the good old days.”

The letters are censored by the Navy so there is very little war talk. In fact, in a few of the earlier letters you wouldn’t know a war was raging at all. Their world, at that time, consisted of each other.

Still there is much to be learned from them. For instance air-mail postage was six cents in 1944 but went up to eight cents in 1945. My mother’s sense of humor never changed – when talking about things they’d need after their wedding my mother wrote, “I bought an iron today. I hope you know how to use it.” I also discovered they planned on having two boys and one girl (they ended up with two girls only). My father never wrote professionally, though he should have. He had a marvelous way with words and his letters were beautifully written.

I still miss them both so much, but I am so appreciative that my mother, Coleta Weiss Kennedy, (March 29, 1921 - July 9, 2008), and my father, James Francis Kennedy, (October 14, 1918 to July 22, 2008) had the foresight to leave this wonderful treasure behind.

It makes me sad to think that the writing of a love letter may be a lost art. With the advent of technology – email, texting and so on, will future generations ever again find a bundle of yellowed letters tied lovingly together with ribbon?

Thank you for stopping by,

Tags: Liz Carpenter, Love Letters, WWII,


L. Diane Wolfe said...

You know, probably not...

However, with the current technology and digital cameras, I think our generation will leave behind many more photos. After the tragedy with our friends this past weekend, I am now so thankful I took pictures at all of the singles get-togethers, as I had many images of Lisa & Terry. (In fact, the ones the news media used this week were photos I took.) So while we may lose the words, we will have more visuals...

L. Diane Wolfe

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

What a wonderful love story, Jane! I've known several couples who died within weeks of each other--I agree with you that a broken heart was definitely the reason.

My husband and I wrote love letters to each other while we were in college. I may need to censor them before my children ever get a hold of them. :)

I think you're right, though...fewer letters. Will there even BE a post office in a couple of generations?

Thanks for sharing your parents' love story.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Alexis Grant said...

That is SO cool! I love artifacts like that. I'm super into family genealogy (although I've put my project on hold for a while to write my book), and if I ever found a pile of love letters, I'd be crazy happy. I love the graph when you explain what you've learned from them -- They had originally planned to have three kids? Details like that are priceless. Enjoy.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Jane, this is a powerful and compelling story…so much moving detail here. You could arrange them in order as best you could, then mount them in a book, or scrapbook and save them for future generations. After all, you were glad they were saved for you. We have the love letters of John and Abigail Adams, circa 1775, why not Coleta and James Kennedy? Works for me.

Best regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Marvin D Wilson said...

Great story, Jane. I really hadn't thought about the lost art of love letters. I know the thrill I used to get as a young man receiving and writing them. It's a totally different world nowadays, eh?

The Old Silly

Helen Ginger said...

What a beautiful post and tribute to your parents. It almost made me cry. I think you're right, the art of letter writing is just about gone. And we're the worse for it.

Straight From Hel

Karen Walker said...

Jane, this post gave me chills. First, for the grief expressed about your loss. Second, for the love your parents obviously felt for each other. Third, for the gift they gave you in leaving the love letters for you to find. Having never received a love letter, I can only imagine.

K. A. Laity said...

And there's a new novelty and enjoyment of the writing process, too. A friend and I made a pact to write real letters to each other after we were together at a conference in New Orleans. I gave into the temptation to buy sealing wax and a stamp for letters -- something I always wanted -- and it was just the spur we needed. Since then we've been enjoying our on and off line correspondences.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane,

This is a beautiful and powerful post. Thanks for sharing bits and pieces of your parents with us. They were indeed very special people.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Those letters are like treasure. How wonderful that your mother left them for you to read. And as others said, how sad letter-writing has almost disappeared.

I have one dear friend with whom I occasionally exchange a real letter instead of e-mail, and an elderly cousin in Norway who loves my letters (but always calls on the phone in return). Maybe we should start a new trend.

Steve Hayes said...

That's why I try to save e-mails -- all but the most trivial and insignificant ones. The problem is, technology may change so that they will become unreadable in future -- the developer of my mail reader (Pegasus) has announced that he is not going to develop the program in future.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world